This is a 7/10 movie, let’s get that said straight off the bat. It’s not high cinema. ANNA is a “spy girl” movie that should have dropped the “spygirl!” bits and concentrated on being just a good spy movie. It would have bumped it up a full .4944 or even .8749 of a star. That said, I only felt insulted by it in one instance (“You are under my protection, and the protection of the United States of America,” which, in fairness, was intended as a direct insult) and the dialogue didn’t even make me cringe once–which is worth a star all unto itself.
Anyway, like I said: the action scenes are the weakest parts of this movie by far–and this is a movie with a first-timer ex-model actress as the lead, a movie which keeps forgetting what time period it’s set in (evil KGB, but also cell phones; Cold War hostilities but also USB drives; ATMs are brand new technology but…you get the picture), and it’s a movie with a female lead character that was made in the time of The Great Awokening. And yet, it’s basically only the action scenes that fall flat, somehow. Sasha Luss, the lead, is incredibly beautiful and actually gives a good, if not theatrical, performance. I don’t really care about what time period this movie is set in, because…while I do remember the world before USB drives existed (3.5 inch floppy drive goes chunk click click click whirrrr), the time setting is really only that–a setting; irrelevant to the conflict, which is timeless.
That conflict? There’s this girl, you see, and she wants freedom.
Anna is someone who has had no control over her life–when she’s recruited into the KGB, she’s a junkie who can’t even really escape from her scumbag boyfriend; and being a spy is no better. She might be trained to kill a man with a pencil, now, but she’s still a slave of the state (in the form of her *new* scumbag boyfriend/handler, Alex (Luke Evans), and the Baronness-type spymistress Olga (Helen Mirren)), falsely promised freedom in five years and entirely expected not to survive that long.
Given that Olga keeps throwing her to the wolves (it’s mentioned that hardly anyone in Olga’s department lives five years. Me, I’d draw conclusions about how competent the management in that department is, but…), it seems that Anna’s resigned despair is justified. However, things get simultaneously better and worse for her when she’s caught mid-assassination attempt by the CIA. Agent Leonard (Cillian Murphy) has a deal for her. A nice house in Hawaii…if she assassinates the head of the KGB. He promises that it’ll work. He also promises to personally exfiltrate her after the mission is complete. He promises to keep her safe.
But Anna has learned that she can never rely on men to keep her safe. She can only rely on herself.
Mind you, I really did want an epilogue with Anna chilling on a Hawaiian beach with Leonard, but maybe the filmmakers thought that would be cliche. A little cliche is good for the soul, though.
Well, one, Anna is a good character, because even when she’s a victim, she’s never pathetic. While she’s a junkie trapped in an abusive relationship, she’s still trying to escape–she tries to join the Navy. While she’s being coerced into joining the KGB, she still tries to escape–she’s willing and prepared to kill herself rather than become a slave, until reassured otherwise. But while she is focused on herself, rather than on duty/honor/country, she’s still admirable because her focus isn’t in harming others–it’s merely in getting away from others that would harm her. Anna wants to be free. Anna will do what it takes to be free. Anna pointedly doesn’t harm international diplomatic relations while doing so.
Anna is a truly strong female character. She is self-motivated, plot-relevant, emotionally secure, and morally (well, for an assassin) healthy. I liked her.
Next: everyone in this movie is really, really pretty. I mean, wow.
On top of that, the acting is pretty good, and on top of that, the script is good enough that it doesn’t need Oscar-worthy talent to make it work.
And the cinematography is good, I guess. Everything wasn’t blue/gray/orange wash, so that’s a win, possibly.
The action scenes really, really, fall flat. Here’s why. It’s not because it’s “unrealistic” for waifish ex-models to be beating up on burly men. IT’S ENTERTAINMENT, HELLO. NOBODY CARES. Give it the thinnest smoke screen of “she’s got better training” (AKA, fancier moves), and everyone’ll be happy.
Problem is, the choreography was terrible to the point that I, who haven’t been in a fistfight since 2002, noticed it. Why does a highly-trained bodyguard react to an oncoming assassiness by grabbing her around the neck and walking backwards with her held off the ground, leaving her arms free to stab him in the face? Why does a different highly-trained bodyguard grab her with one hand by the upper arm and then pause, holding his position long enough for her to use her other, unrestrained arm to shoot him in the face? Why not, y’know, tackle the slender woman to the ground and sit on her? And if that’s too much of a potential game changer, why not shift combat emphasis to ranged weaponry and have some kickass gunfights, instead? (The gunfights are also highly unimpressive.) I am annoyed to the point of saying they should have been cut entirely and more attention given to the spy-vs-spy-vs-spy aspects of the story.